Friday, 12 November 2010

The Dutch Army Visits The Surreal Village

The day was breathtakingly beautiful. The air was thin and each inhalation made me wince as a sharp pain hit somewhere deep inside my lungs. I was on top of a hill, in the middle of nowhere or MAMOFA (miles and miles of eff a). The sixth form students were on a Geography trip. Even though it was a sunny day, they were shivering and moaning.

This was due to the fact that they were dressed for an afternoon's shopping at the Metro Centre. T-shirts, the thinnest of trousers and hoodies and no gloves or proper hats. They were looking at the lead slag and collecting samples of zinc.

The sixth formers had not distinguished themselves that morning. Only half of the class had turned up. "This is lamentable," sobbed a teacher. "what's their excuse this time? Where's Hernia?"

"She's in Disneyland," replied one of the students.

"Disneyland? What the hell is she doing there?"

"18th Birthday Party."

"What about Nausea?


"Ill? She was fine yesterday."

"Gigi's where?"

"In Glasgow, she's touring the clubs. There was a big party there."

"Gloria's booked her driving test."

"How convenient. Gilbert's sick too, though I thought I saw him walking past the school this morning. Anyway here comes Roger, but what the hell is he wearing?"

"Sorry, sir. Can I run back home. I've forgotten my coat."

So we were late starting. Not before the organiser had forgotten the keys to the village hall where they were going to have lunch. We had to turn around and retrieve the keys. But by the time we had returned to the school the 'school dinner' delivery van was blocking the way and a surly driver was unloading pallets of various maets.

The organiser asked him to move. With much animated arm waving and scowling, he glared at me, threw a tray full of meat down onto the ground and jumped into the cab of his truck. he didn't even bother to close the doors and we watched him zoom off round the school coach park with sausages falling out onto the tarmac.

The students had done enough zinc studying. Two hours in the North Pennines was enough. They were frozen. Now we had a boring situation. The village where they were to have lunch was only a mile away, straight down the hill. But because there was a narrow bridge which the bus would not be able to get over, it meant an 8 miles detour. I suggested they walk as they would do it in half the time, it was a lovely day and it was downhill all the way and not very taxing.

"I'll have to ask the students what they would like to do," said the teacher. No don't do that I thought - just tell them." The obvious occurred.

"Put your hands up if you would like to walk."


"Put your hands up if you would like to ride on the bus."

Enthusiastic arm motions filled the bus, of course. "Typical," said the teacher. Typical teacher, I thought.

So off we went on the twenty minute detour. The village they went to is a very picturesque place, but one with a strange attitude. Whenever I go there something bohemian and surreal happens. Today was no exception. The shopkeeper looked put out when I asked whether there were any sandwiches. The awkward silence meant I had said the wrong thing, so I hurriedly bought some midget gems and rushed out of the shop. The sweets were so old that they needed the bus ignition keys to prise them apart.

As I came out of the shop there was an angry driver in a German sports car, deliberately trying to make a point that the bus was unwelcome and parked far too near his house. In protest he parked the car outside the house, but away from the kerb, which would make it difficult for the bus to manoevre past him. He was an elderly man. Many people who drive sports cars seem to be over retirement age. Perhaps they are the only people these days who can afford the insurance premiums. He looked at the bus, made a noise akin to clearing his throat and disappeared into his house.

At that precise moment the Dutch Army drove round the corner and blocked me in. Three
strange looking half-tracks and trailers appeared. "What the hell........." said a surprised student.

"Don't worry they are on European exercises," said the teacher. "I saw the vehicles last night parked outside a Premier Inn."

They would have trouble staying in this surreal village, I thought. The pub was closed and there was a dispute between the publican and the villagers over to the future of the building. Pub or private house?

I watched the Dutch Army go round the village green for the third time, failing miserably in their map reading exercise. Welcome to Britain.


  1. "collecting samples of zinc"
    I fancy this is Tindale?

  2. The village sounds as if he went to Royston Vasey/ You never leave.